A New Zealand man who was shot while allegedly trying to kidnap a 14-year-old Virginia girl he met online has reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutorsBy DENISE LAVOIE AP Legal Affairs WriterJuly 14, 2021, 8:46 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleRICHMOND, Va. — A New Zealand man who was shot while allegedly trying to kidnap a 14-year-old Virginia girl he met online has reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.Troy George Skinner, 28, of Auckland, New Zealand, was scheduled to face trial next month on two counts of attempted kidnapping and nine counts related to the production of child pornography. But electronic court records show that the jury selection process was terminated last week and a plea agreement hearing in the case has been scheduled for July 29.Skinner was arrested in June 2018 after he showed up at the Goochland home of the girl and tried to break in. Authorities said the girl’s mother warned him several times that she had a gun, then shot him after he broke the glass on the second door he tried to open. Skinner recovered from a bullet wound to his neck.It was not immediately clear what charges are included in the plea agreement. A spokeswoman for Acting U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh declined to comment on the terms of the agreement. Skinner’s lawyers did not return telephone messages and emails seeking comment.Federal authorities said Skinner met the girl online in December 2017, when he was 24 and she was 13, although she told him she was 16, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit when he applied for a warrant to search Skinner’s cell phones. They communicated via chat sessions and livestream video sessions, and had an online sexual relationship, according to the affidavit.Authorities have not named the girl because of her age. In court documents, prosecutors said that when the girl tried to end their relationship, Skinner “started harassing her and attempting to manipulate her with threats of suicide.” The girl eventually cut off contact with Skinner.Skinner left Auckland on June 20, 2018, traveled to the U.S. and arrived at the girl’s house uninvited on June 22 after stopping at a Walmart store and buying pepper spray, a folding knife and duct tape, according to the affidavit.Former Goochland County Sheriff James Agnew said the girl, her teenage sister and her mother saw Skinner attempting to break in to their home. He disclosed that information in the days after Skinner’s arrest.Agnew said Skinner first tried to break down a basement door with a brick and appeared to ignore warnings from the girl’s mother that she was armed. Agnew said Skinner then climbed some steps to the deck and smashed a glass door with the brick. He said the girl’s mother warned Skinner again that she had a gun, but he reached in to try to unlock the door. She fired twice, hitting him once in the neck, Agnew said. Skinner collapsed in a neighbor’s yard.A federal indictment filed against Skinner in September 2019 alleges that Skinner, while in New Zealand, induced the girl to engage in sexually explicit conduct to produce child pornography.Skinner pleaded not guilty to the charges. His lawyers argued that because all of Skinner’s contact with the girl was virtual and the two never physically touched each other, the images did not constitute child pornography.The details of his plea agreement with prosecutors are expected to be revealed during the July 29 hearing in U.S. District Court in Richmond. He faces the possibility of decades in prison, but it is unclear what kind of sentencing recommendation could be included in the plea agreement.
A Black woman who was forced face-down onto the pavement during a traffic stop has been awarded $300,000 by a jury in Virginia after she sued the officer for excessive force and false arrestBy DENISE LAVOIE AP Legal Affairs WriterJuly 13, 2021, 5:40 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleRICHMOND, Va. — A jury in Virginia has awarded $300,000 in damages to a Black woman who sued a police officer for excessive force and false arrest after she was forced face-down onto the pavement during a traffic stop.The case began on Feb. 12, 2015, when then-54-year-old Monica Cromartie was stopped for speeding. Cromartie said she got out of her car to protest the traffic stop, but obeyed a command from Petersburg Police Officer Brian Lee Billings when he told her to get back in the car.According to Cromartie, after Billings asked her to roll down her car window, she told him to leave her alone as she complained to someone on her cellphone about the traffic stop. Seconds later, she said, he pulled her out of her car, forced her onto the ground and placed his weight on her back, injuring her forehead, lip, teeth, right eyebrow and both knees before she was handcuffed and put in leg shackles.Most of the encounter was captured by police body camera and introduced during two trials.Billings said during a deposition that he removed Cromartie from the car to arrest her for obstruction of justice.In 2017, a jury awarded Cromartie $23,499 in damages for state law claims after finding that Billings assaulted, falsely imprisoned and maliciously prosecuted her on a charge of obstruction of justice. However, the trial judge granted a defense motion that the jury would not be allowed to decide Cromartie’s claims that Billings violated her Fourth Amendment rights against excessive force and false arrest, and for an illegal search of her car and her purse, finding that the officer was entitled to immunity on those claims.Cromartie appealed, and in 2020, the Supreme Court of Virginia reversed the trial judge’s ruling and found that the officer was liable on all of the claims in Cromartie’s lawsuit.On Monday, a jury in Petersburg Circuit Court awarded Cromartie $300,000 in punitive and compensatory damages.“She was very glad that after carrying this matter for six years of her life that she finally got the verdict on the constitutional claims that she was looking for, something that demonstrates that the conduct of this officer was not acceptable for the city of Petersburg or for the state,” said Andrew Bodoh, one of her attorneys.Attorney Tom Roberts, who also represented Cromartie in her lawsuit, said she has lingering physical and psychological injuries, including a scar above her eye and a missing tooth. He said the jury heard testimony that after her encounter with Billings, Cromartie did not call the police during two incidents, one involving the threat of domestic assault by her estranged husband and another when a neighbor showed up at her home with a baseball bat after an argument with her grandchildren.“She chose not to call the police because of her experience with Officer Billings that made her demonstrably fearful of interacting with the police in the very situation where police should have been called,” Roberts said.Petersburg police did not immediately respond to two emails seeking comment Tuesday. Billings, who retired from the police department months after the encounter, testified he was not disciplined for his actions. Billings did not immediately respond to an email or to a message left Tuesday on a phone number listed in his name.